Converting FAT to NTFS
“A tech support guy told me my system is running FAT, and advised me to convert my hard drive to NTFS. I didn’t really understand his explanation… can you explain the difference and when it makes sense to convert FAT to NTFS?”
From FAT to NTFS
Although it might sound like a diet promo, FAT and NTFS are two file systems used for disk management on Windows-based computers. A file system is the software embedded in the operating system that you to create, access and delete files or folders on a disk. Here’s a rundown on both FAT and the newer NTFS file systems.
FAT (File Allocation Table) is the older, more simplistic of the two technologies, and if you have a computer running DOS or Windows 95/98/ME, it will have a FAT file system on the hard drive. If you have upgraded an older computer, you may even have FAT file system on a Windows XP or Vista computer.
But there are several disadvantages to using FAT, especially on newer computers. FAT maxes out performance-wise on drives larger than 200MB, which is quite small by today’s standards. File naming is restricted to eight alphanumeric characters (no punctuations, please) followed by a period and then the traditional three character file extension, ie: EXAMPLE2.DOC
Also, file permissions cannot be set with FAT. Some older computers running Windows 95/98 or Windows 2000 ran a variant or FAT called FAT32, which offered extended functionality by allowing longer file names and supported larger disks. FAT also has a tendency to fragment; leaving pieces of data scattered throughout the disk, slowing down performance. Remember back in the pre-XP days when Defrag had to run with regularity on a disk and how long it would take to complete?
NTFS – A Better Filesystem For Most Computers
With the release of Windows NT 4.0, Microsoft introduced a new and improved file system called NTFS (NT File System). NTFS can support drives up to 16 exabytes. (To put that in perspective, consider that we are just beginning to see hard drives capable of handling 1 terabyte (about 1 trillion characters). An exabyte is one million terabytes.) Additionally, file and directory names under NTFS can be up to 255 characters long. NTFS can also read FAT files and offers more stability and better performance for operating systems residing on large disk volumes.
With a newer OS like Vista you can format disks with either FAT or NTFS. NTFS is strongly recommended for its performance, advanced features and security. For instance, to use Vista’s BitLocker drive encryption, there must be at least two NTFS formatted partitions on a disk.
So how can you tell (if you didn’t install your operating system yourself) which file system your hard drive is formatted with? The easiest way is to go into My Computer, right-click on the C drive, and then click on “Properties.” The file system type will be displayed.
Can I Convert My Hard Drive From FAT to NTFS?
So what if you see FAT or FAT32 as the filesystem? Are you stuck with it? Are you doomed to lust in futility after the advantages NTFS has to offer? Can an old, creaking FAT-formatted drive be converted to NTFS?
Fortunately, yes. You can convert a FAT or FAT32 system to NTFS under Windows XP or Vista. Conversion can be achieved though the Windows graphical interface or the command line. Most mere mortals will simply right-click on the drive you want to convert and then click “Convert.” Wizards who feel at home on the command line can enter a command like this:
convert X: /fs:ntfs (replace “X” with the desired drive letter)
NTFS Conversion Caveats
Converting from FAT to NTFS is not as big a deal as formatting the disk. You won’t lose any existing files or folders, but Microsoft recommends that you backup your data before doing the conversion.
You can convert the system drive (usually the C drive) but this will require a reboot, and the conversion will take place when you restart the computer.
Be prepared to wait a while, converting from FAT to NTFS takes time, especially on larger hard drives.
You cannot convert a drive from NTFS to FAT. To do that you would need to do a complete reformat, wiping the data off the disk entirely.
NTFS is not compatible with DOS, Windows 95/98/ME systems. If you need to dual-boot between XP or Vista and any of these older systems, you should stick with FAT.
Modern versions of Linux allow access to files on NTFS-formatted drives. This can come in handy if you have a dual-boot system with Linux and Windows XP or Vista.
With hard drive space getting larger and larger in your average PC, and security becoming a critical issue even for the home users, the best practice is to format your drives with NTFS. With the method described above conversion from FAT to NTFS can be done painlessly and without wiping out existing data.
Do you have comments or questions about converting to NTFS? Post your thoughts below…
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 31 Mar 2008
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Converting FAT to NTFS (Posted: 31 Mar 2008)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved